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Ken Burns on PBS

As you are probably aware, President Bush has proposed reducing public broadcasting funding by 56%. The New York Times asked in a recent article (Is PBS Still Necessary?, By Charles Mcgrath, New York Times, February 17, 2008) and there is now a debate about the value of Public Broadcasting in the age of cable and the Web (see for example: “Is PBS Necessary?” The Debate Moves Online, PBS Engage Blog). We have even had a few comments on this here on FGI (Is PBS passé?, by Susanna Leers, and comments).

Now Ken Burns, the documentary filmmaker whose projects include “The War,” “The Civil War,” “Jazz” and “Baseball” (about which he says, “none of the films I have made in the last nearly 30 years could have been produced anywhere but at PBS”) weighs in with an Op-Ed:

  • Standing up for public television, By Ken Burns Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2008. “PBS offers an invaluable service that none of the other channels can deliver.”

Is PBS passé?

A prominently featured article in Sunday’s New York Times dares to ask the question "Is PBS Still Necessary? "  Public broadcasting is once again threatened with budget cuts; the article’s author, Charles McGrath, suggests that maybe public television isn’t necessary in these days of hundreds of cable channels.  He distinguishes public television from public radio, which has a growing audience:  there are more than 30 million listeners now, compared to just 2 million in 1980.  In contrast, he points out, the average PBS prime time show has about as many viewers as "the wrestling show “’Friday Night Smackdown’”. 
I can’t muster up much indignation at his article.  In my house I don’t think we’ve watched the PBS station since the kids outgrew Sesame Street (though Sesame Street was on all the time when the kids were little)  a decade ago.  I tried to watch one of the Ken Burns programs but there were so many pledge breaks I gave up and just rented it from the video store.  Frankly, I find pledge breaks far more annoying than commercials. On the other hand, the only radio I listen to is the three public radio stations in Pittsburgh and I would be bereft without NPR. 
Is public television still an important cultural source for less urban, eastern parts of the country?  Or has it outlived its usefulness?  Do chime in with your opinions. 

Oral Histories from U.S. Veterans

Library of Congress and PBS Collect and Preserve Oral Histories of U.S. Wartime Veterans